Posted: May 19, 2016
Our brother Hippolyto has reminded us of something we must never forget: mission is holistic, and thus, evangelism is comprehensive. In specific terms, we understand that this means that the good news must be proclaimed regarding all areas of human need. And perhaps this is to say that God’s Kingdom will not be complete until each aspect of human suffering is healed, reconciled and transformed. This is why we say it is “now, but not yet,” because while the Lord completes his Kingdom, our task is to continue serving, healing, reconciling and transforming.
So then, it is necessary to emphasize that to evangelize and do mission, we need to talk about a complete project, since talking about the Kingdom of God means talking about the here and now, about providing a spiritual, material, social, economic response to the world (“Repent, because the Kingdom of God—God’s project of a new humanity—has come near!” Mark 1:15).
We also understand that to belong to the Kingdom involves a call that cannot only be based on theory but is basically action: going from “chair” theology to “road” theology. Our role as builders of the Kingdom is here and now; it is meaningless unless it responds to specific needs at the specific time in which we live. The Scriptures clearly show us this: our Lord Jesus was aware of the specific needs of a worn-out society.
And this is the point. There are many things that persist in social and historic processes, but at the same time, societies are changing. As a church, we face new problems that didn’t exist before, and quite frankly, sometimes overwhelm us. It is something complex, and as young people we wonder how we can put into practice all that has been said.
Perhaps our concern has to do with a very particular question: What’s the use of our theology, however well formulated, if it doesn’t become a practice of the gospel, if it doesn’t help us embody the teachings of Jesus?
And then we recall something that some pastors have taught us: we must add praxis to doxa. Jesus has taught us that it involves a lifestyle (ethics-practice) that includes a renewal of the mind (doxa). If we want to follow the Teacher’s footsteps in our daily life, our practice must be here and now. And here and now means having an active faith, but how?
We believe that Matthew 10:7–8 is a key text: “As you go, proclaim this message: the kingdom of heaven has come near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give” (NIV). What must be done seems clear: simply be willing to give without receiving anything in return. But, how can we give if we don’t know what is needed? When we give, are we previously transformed by our own need? Does our mission become incarnate or do we come as if we owned the truth, imposing programs, objectives, structures, budgets?
Our brother referred to being careful not to succumb to or continue to practice a gospel based on an ideology of imposition. This is to say, a gospel that doesn’t pay attention to the context, the concrete needs, the concrete suffering, pain or the search for concrete hopes. And once again, in light of the Teacher’s example, it was not a coincidence that Jesus moved on the fringes of society, where there is plenty of suffering, but also where hope flourishes.
That is why our key question is also a fundamental one: Who are our lepers now? Who are the men and women that the society considers lepers? Does our convenience hinder us from seeing them?
Now, we can at least say that our lepers are all those who break traditional patterns, who make us leave our purely theological or doctrinal comfort zone, reminding us that what needs to be done is not only to believe in the Kingdom but precisely to make the Kingdom happen.
Now, our lepers are those who make us feel uncomfortable, those who force us to make a paradigm shift, those who compel us return to the gospel (always new!), men and women whom it is hard for us to imagine sitting next to us in a “normal” worship service.
There will be many uncomfortable questions to which the world expects answers from us. And believe me, we won’t always have the answers for everything. But what is true is that our roots as Anabaptists and disciples of Jesus will not allow us to promote, justify or sanction situations that create discrimination, exclusion, violence, or even death of any man or woman on the basis of his or her origin, ethnic group, social economic condition, gender, marital status, sexual orientation or any other form of exclusion.
But if we are able to look, and above all to listen, we will realize that it is precisely there where revival comes from. Thus, as Jesus didn’t come to the healthy but to the sick; and came to listen to the dispossessed and give hope to who had lost it, so must we accompany those who are like sheep without a shepherd, and then become, as a church, the first to love those who no one wants to love, those who have lost all hope.
And this isn’t theory. It can only come about by doing it, since it is what the Lord demands of us as disciples; the commandment says: Love your neighbour as yourself; honour your neighbour the same way that God has honoured you.
Last year, we had the opportunity to travel to Colombia and visit one of the villages, called San Nicolás, where many displaced people live. In that place there is a community of believers who understand that it is in practice that everything takes on its true meaning. In this community, all kinds of people are embraced, people that have been marginalized from the rest of society—even people who have committed crimes or are described as violent or as scum—and are accepted regardless of their past. Without expecting anything in return, their transformed lives have begun to break into a violent system, the visible signs of a new humanity. And these are the fruits of action.
In this regard, we take for granted that mission is holistic. And as Jesus said, you will ALWAYS have the poor among you (Matthew 26:11), thus each one of us surely has someone that we find hard to work with. But it is precisely here, following the Teacher’s steps, that God asks us to reach out to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. And this leads us to think in a radical way that the grace that was bestowed on us vertically is the same grace that we must bestow on others horizontally, expecting nothing in return, perhaps taking the risk to love someone who doesn’t want to love us.
Now, we understand quite well what has to be done. And if we lose focus, we just need to take a glimpse at the history of our struggle to keep faithful to the gospel of Christ. But we believe the Lord also constantly summons our creativity when posing this question: How will you make mission concrete? Perhaps breaking all those institutional barriers that the ossified churches have inherited, going beyond agencies and programs, not defining all mission in terms of plans, budgets and numbers, but rather by something more practical that will require all our creativity: an openness to the context of each place and person. And indeed, overcoming the spectre of the Western-economic mission; often money isn’t even necessary where the Holy Spirit works through us.
Perhaps the only thing we have to do is just be able to listen to the distressed. By listening, we are already giving. By listening, we are honouring others, and at the same time, we are honouring ourselves, or in other words, we are transformed while offering the gospel of peace.
We cannot just simply come with banners reading “God loves you,” because not being able to listen to the needs of those who are suffering would lead us to commit the sin of wanting to impose evangelization. It is perhaps a “passive” evangelization, but at the same time it bears witness in a radical way; through our actions we engage people in our lifestyle. It is an evangelization based on receptiveness, as when Jesus asked: “What do you want me do for you?” (Mark 10:51).
We shall conclude with a passage that exemplifies how our mission should be:
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ (Matthew 25:34–40).
May the Lord continue among us and encourage us daily.
—Marc Pasqués was born and raised in Barcelona, Spain, then moved to Australia as a young adult where he connects values with marketing decisions. Marc is a member of MWC’s YABs committee. Rodrigo Pedroza is a writer and illustrator of children’s stories and fantasy, Rodrigo also serves as pastor in Mexico and a member of the conflict resolution team in his conference as well as a member of MWC’s YABs committee.